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    Second Annual My Fab Fifties Life World Travel Awards

    And the Winner is…

    Location: Around the World

    And the Winner Is…

    If you’ve been following My Fab Fifties Life for awhile you will remember our 2017 World Travel Awards from last January.  I definitely feel with all of our travels in 2018 (covering 57,000 miles and 26 countries) we are well positioned to bestow the World Travel Awards – our version of the Oscar or the Razzy – on many people, places and travel experiences that have touched us this past year.  Just like the famous movie awards, we have seen a world of real life

    Word Travel Awards

    Australia

    drama, fantasy, comedy, mystery, nature and animation.  Enough to last a lifetime.

    Word Travel Awards

    Berlin Germany

    This is a long blog. But I believe it offers some valuable travel insight to the world. I hope you will find it informative and entertaining. So in keeping with the time of year for awards,  I give to you our picks for World Travel Awards, Best and Worst of 2018 – My Fab Fifties Life.

    (For reference – our 2018 countries visited were; India, Bangladesh, Maldives, Singapore, Guam, Australia, Indonesia, Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, USA, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Romania, Greece, Egypt, Jordan, Portugal, Spain, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil.

    DESTINATIONS

    26 Countries

    Word Travel Awards

    Australia

    Favorite Overall Country – Australia

    Australia takes the top award this year edging out a few others (Greece, Poland) but we both agreed.  Australia is the best.  The only negative about Australia is it’s expensive.  But we believe the beauty, culture, nature and environmental awareness helped us choose it as our favorite destination of 2018.  We plan to return in 2019.

    Favorite City – Sydney and Krakow

    Well there it is again – Australia.  Sydney Australia and Krakow Poland take our award this year for favorite city, and basically for the same reason.  Both offer a variety of cultural, historic and scenic options for visitors.  Sydney also has beaches while Krakow has great food.

    Most Beautiful City – Singapore

    Word Travel Awards

    Singapore

    Everything you ever heard about Singapore is true – sparkling clean, stunningly beautiful (especially at night), easy to maneuver and very pedestrian friendly, Singapore was our favorite beautiful city of the year.

    Cutest Town – Brugge

    Word Travel Awards

    Brugge Belgium

    Singapore might take the big city award but we are more small town folks, and Brugge was a perfect little package of history, beauty, beer, delicious food and very friendly people.  We spent four days and could easily have stayed on even longer.

    Most Expensive Country – Australia

    Australia has so much to offer, but inexpensive it is not.

    Least Expensive Country – Indonesia

    Finding an oasis

    Mount Batur Bali

    With some of the nicest people and most beautiful scenery Indonesia is a bargain, and we loved our time there.

    Most Disappointing City – Ubud (Bali Indonesia) Ubud is no longer the sweet little artists/yoga village we all imagine from Eat Pray Love.  When I saw the American brand chain stores I was so disappointed (Ralph Lauren, Starbucks, Nike).

     

    ACCOMMODATIONS

    29 Airbnbs, 42 hotels, 5 boats

    Word Travel Awards

    Airbnb Antiparos

    Best Airbnb OverallAntiparos, Greece. We loved our relaxing three weeks in this gorgeous, private, and big airbnb with a stunning view and wonderful host.  I hope to return someday. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/20657689

    Best Airbnb for ServiceRio de Janeiro.  Our short visit to Rio (we really should have stayed longer) was extra special due to the hospitable and generous host at our sweet Airbnb.  She was one of the most thoughtful hosts we have ever had. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1149627 

    Best Airbnb for AuthenticitySantorini

    Santorini short and sweet

    Santorini

    Greece. Hands down the most expensive Airbnb we have ever stayed in, and yet it was also incredibly authentic Greek cliffside dwelling with a stunning crater view. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/15926564

    Most Expensive AirbnbSantorini $220 a night (see above)

    Word Travel Awards

    Maldives

    Best Value AirbnbMaldives our tiny room

    in a tiny resort on the tiny island of Huraa was $90 a night but included three meals a day for both of us. We loved our relaxing three weeks here. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4490934

    Word Travel Awards

    Lombok

    Most Rustic AirbnbLombok, Indonesia. spending a week in a traditional Javenese cottage far from civilization was a favorite experience. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/15991971

    Least Expensive AirbnbLombok at only $52 was a bargain and so relaxing (see above)

    Most Unique AirbnbKey West, USA I thought spending four days onboard a 30 foot sailboat would be fun.  Not so much.  It was definitely unique. And cute.  But also uncomfortable.

    Favorite HotelPuri Lumbung Cottage, Bali this beautiful hotel complex made out of

    Word Travel Awards

    Puri Lumbung Cottage Bali

    traditional rice barns was not only beautiful, but it offered so many activities as part of our package and an incredible view at a bargain price.  We loved our time here with our friends John and Carol

    Worst HotelSingapore.  Because Singapore is so expensive we booked this inexpensive $117 hotel and our room was literally a closet in the attic with no windows.  It felt like a jail cell.

    Friendliest Airbnb FamilyExmouth, Western Australia.  We spent ten days in the

    Word Travel Awards

    Exmouth Australia

    tiny Western Australia town of Exmouth and we loved our little Airbnb and the darling family that lived next door.  We would love to go back. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/18258544

    Worst Hotel Experience – Bucharest Romania. Arriving at our booked and paid-for hotel near the Bucharest Airport, we learned there was a “septic” problem.  No room at the inn.  Nearly five hours later we finally laid our heads on a FUTON, in a teeny apartment of some guy who wasn’t using it, well away from the airport but grateful to just go to sleep.  We had a very early flight and it was not a great way to end our three weeks in Romania.

     

    FOOD

    Favorite Country Cuisine Poland, rich and

    The Foods of Poland

    Poland

    hearty comfort foods make Poland our fav in 2018. But Greece comes in a close second.

    Word Travel Awards

    Spanish Tapas

    Best MealTapas Tour in Sevilla Spain our self guided Tapas Tour in Sevilla’s Triana neighborhood was so delicious and fun. A perfect Spanish memory.

    Best Cooking ClassKrakow Poland I really enjoyed learning to make handmade Pierogi in the tiny communist era apartment of our sweet cooking instructor.

    Best BeerBrugge runs away with this

    Word Travel Awards

    Brugge beer

    award, nowhere else even in the running.  Brugge is a beer lovers town and we are beer lovers.  Our visit to Brugge was memorable for many reasons including the wonderful selection of really outstanding beer.

    Best Food Experience/TourBrugge wins this one too! We really enjoyed having dinner in the home of a lovely Brugge couple who through the website With Locals offered a home cooked Belgian meal in a typical Belgian home.  What a lovely treat.

    Word Travel Awards

    Port Wine

    Best Drinks TourPort Tour Porto Portugal.  I wasn’t sure I was going to like this tour but it ended up being so wonderful, educational, delicious and fun.  I highly recommend this if you are in the beautiful Portuguese city of Porto.

     

    CULTURAL AND NATURAL EXPERIENCES

    Word Travel Awards

    Guam

    Best SunsetGuam. With Gin and Tonic in hand and enjoying some family time while visiting my niece Bekah and her husband Davy, we enjoyed our favorite sunset of the year on the little Dungcas beach in Guam.

    Most Authentic Cultural ExperienceBangladesh Tour. Who goes to Bangladesh?  Well just about no one, and it is exactly the

    Word Travel Awards

    Bangladesh

    reason we enjoyed our time there so very much.  By far the most authentic and least touristy country we have been to in a long time. The people were so interested and amazed by us and they treated us like celebrities.  We loved our time there.

    Word Travel Awards

    Antiparos

    Best Beach – It’s a tie!  Antiparos, Greece and Ilha Grande, Brazil both deserve to be winners, even though they were quit different.  Antiparos was amazing for the solitude, beauty and spectacular turquoise water.  Ilha Grande had such warm water and the beaches were clean and beautiful despite being challenging to get to, we loved exploring the Ilha Grande beaches

    Word Travel Awards

    Egypt

    Best TourMemphis Tours Egypt was one of the best tour companies we have ever dealt with providing us incredible detail prior to arriving, and being present and on top of every detail throughout our ten-day visit to Egypt and Jordan.  Our guides, drivers, accommodations and everything else were flawless.

    Best DriverKadek in Bali. I found Kadek on Trip Advisor and he served as our driver for our entire three weeks on the island of Bali.  He was a very good driver, spoke great English and in addition to picking us and dropping us at our destination he made sure we saw lots of interesting things along the way.  I hope to meet Kadek again some day.

    Word Travel Awards

    Berlin Germany

    Best Free Walking TourBerlin Germany. We have done so many free walking tours over the past several years and only once did we NOT like our guide.  But the young lady we had in Berlin was hands down one of the most charming, interesting, factual, fun and entertaining humans I have ever met.  It made for a most memorable experience and a big tip for her.

    Best Tour GuideCristian, Santiago Chile.  Cristian was our guide on a bus tour we took the day we left our cruise ship and headed to Santiago for our flight.  We spent the day touring the wine region of Chile as well as seeing a small authentic rodeo and dancing. Cristian was patient,

    Hard to answer questions to a travel nomad

    India

    informative, interesting and entertaining.

    Best Bucket List Historic SiteWinner Taj Mahal.  Runner-ups The Great Pyramids and Petra. I cried the day I stood in front of the Taj Mahal.  It was even more beautiful than I imagined.  And lucky for us, we hit it on an unusually clear blue sunny day with hardly any people.  Magnificent site to

    The Magical History Tour

    Cairo

    behold.  Totally worth it.  Of course the Pyramids and Petra are a close second.  After seeing these sites your whole life in pictures, it’s surreal to finally see, touch and feel such awesome history and beauty first hand.

    Best SnorkelingMaldives. You might be surprised we aren’t giving this award to The Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  Yes that was amazing.  But our best one day snorkeling actually took place in the crystal clear

    Word Travel Awards

    Maldives

    blue waters of the Maldives, on a tiny sand island of only about 20 yards wide and 75 yards long. Here we witnessed the most beautiful coral reef I’ve ever seen, and the most amazing variety of fish and sealife.

    Best Natural Site Uluru Australia.  It’s a trek to get to Uluru.  And like everything in Australia it will be expensive.

    Word Travel Awards

    Uluru

    But standing next that incredible natural phenomenon will be something you will never forget.

    Best Manmade SitePanama Canal Panama.  I had no idea how much I was going to enjoy our eleven hour crossing of the amazing Panama Canal.  Truly a modern day wonder of the world.

    Word Travel Awards

    Malaga Cathedral, Spain

    Best CathedralMalaga Spain.  We see a lot of cathedrals.  Sometimes individual ones are difficult to remember. Malaga is not one of those. A distinctively beautiful design inside makes it my favorite and most memorable cathedral in 2018.

    Word Travel Awards

    7 Ladders, Brasov Romania

    Best Day HikeWe have a three way tie for this one with 1. Canyon of the Seven Ladders, Brasov Romania 2. Campuhan trail in the rice fields outside of Ubud, Bali. 3. Coogee to Bondi Beach ocean trail Australia. All providing us wonderful days outdoors in three very distinctively different natural settings.

    Best Multi-Day Hike – Well, the Camino Portuguese of course!

    Most Exhilarating Outdoor ExperienceMorning swim Denmark.  Even though it was August, jumping into the North Sea before breakfast was an eye-popping way to start your day – and a very Danish thing to do!

    Word Travel Awards

    Australia

    Expensive but Worth itClimbing the Harbor Bridge Sydney Australia $467. I had to really convince Arne to do this because it was outrageously expensive.  But in the end he agreed it was worth it.   An impressively well done and safe operation with a spectacular view to boot.

    Word Travel Awards

    Platypus Australia

    Best Wildlife Experience  1. Platypus spotting Australia 2. Aligator Spotting Florida. We love it when we can see wildlife in its natural habitat, untouched by humans.  Seeing a wild platypus in Australia was so incredible.  I still can hardly believe our luck and timing to spot the elusive and shy creature.  On the other hand, seeing literally dozens and dozens of alligators within just a few feet of us as we rode bikes on the Shark Valley trail in the Florida Everglades was one of the strangest experiences of my life.

    Word Travel Awards

    Auschwitz

    Most Moving ExperienceAuschwitz, Poland Hands down – seeing and learning about the extermination of Jews in Auschwitz and in Krakow was the most astonishing and moving experience in all of our travels.  I tried to put it into perspective in a blog.  It was difficult.  Some people choose not to visit.  For us it was the reason for going to Poland and I believe EVERYONE should go.

    Word Travel Awards

    Performance, Ubud Bali

    Best Performance 1. Bali 2. Sydney 3. Krakow  It’s one of our favorite things to do when traveling, attending a local performance.  And this past year we saw several remarkable shows including two fascinating and authentic indigenous dance shows in Ubud Bali, a circus/dance show at the Sydney Opera House as well as an outdoor spectacle of La Boheme on Sydney Harbor.  In Krakow we enjoyed a piano solo performance of Krakow’s favorite son Chopin and LOVED a string quartet concert inside the tiniest historic chapel.

    Best Museum Skagen Denmark A surprising find in this tiny historic seaside town in Northern Denmark, Skagens Museum featured the remarkable art of the amazing talents of the area’s 1800’s artist colony.

    Word Travel Awards

    Ecuador

    Best Cultural Art Experience Ecuador Panama Hat Making in the tiny mountain town of Monticristi a tradition endures where skilled artists produce these works of beauty known as Panama Hats.

    Word Travel Awards

    Berlin Wall

    Best Historical Art Experience Berlin Wall  The reason we came to Berlin was to see the iconic wall, which did not disappoint, and the rest of this amazing city made it one of our favorite stops on European adventure.

    Word Travel Awards

    Count Dracula Romania

    Kitsch Award – we make an effort to avoid tourist kitsch, but sometimes we fall for it, as we did in Sighisoara Romania.  Touted as the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler (Count Dracula), we paid a couple of dollars to walk into a dark and spooky room where an open coffin waited with the Count himself asleep.  Well until he jumped up and scared me to death.  LOL.

    Least English SpokenBrazil.  Portuguese is the official language of Brazil and we found through out the country even in high tourist areas English is rare.  Much like in Portugal and in Spain, there are few fluent English speakers.  Even in the airport and on the flights English is unusual.

     

    WEATHER

    Hottest Day: Ilha Grande Brazil 95 degrees F and 76 degree dew point.  We swooned.

    Word Travel Awards

    Muxia Spain

    Coldest Day: Pontevedra Spain 39 degrees F on our Camino de Santiago we froze and this was the start of my chest cold that lasted 8 weeks.

    Wettest Day: Muxia Spain a four day monsoon kept us indoors, stuffing paper towels into the frames of the windows to keep the water from pouring in.

    Windiest Day: Antiparos Greece – a rare October cyclone closed down shops, the ferry, and toppled trees.

     

     

    TRAVEL

    30 flights, 8 train rides, lots of small boat rides, one river cruise, two ocean cruises

    Smallest AirportParos Greece

    Worst Flight ExperienceIceland Air lost luggage. It took three days before we saw our luggage again.

    Word Travel Awards

    Worst AirlineScoot. Worst flight I can remember in a while from Singapore to Perth.  Everything cost extra including baggage, drinks, food and even a blanket.

    Word Travel Awards

    Train Travel

    Best Travel ExperienceEurope Train Travel. We had a wonderful experience using the trains from Belgium to Germany to Poland and throughout Andalucia and I would do that again in a minute.

    Worst AirportManila We had a long layover here and there was nowhere to sit.  There was no ATM to get local currency and none of the concessionaires took credit cards.  The part of the airport we saw was old and dirty.

    Word Travel Awards

    Camino de Santiago Portugal

    Best Airport – In contrast and like everything else in Singapore, the airport is new, shiny, efficient and beautiful.

    Word Travel Awards

    Dead Sea Jordan

    Worst Security Line – Seattle WA USA.  Way to go USA.  My flight from Seattle to Nashville was a near disaster when I arrived more than two hours ahead of schedule to find a more than two-hour security line.  Seattle’s inability to separate out domestic and international travelers and offer expanded security lanes has made it one of my least favorite airports in the entire world.

    Worst Travel Experiencemissing our flight in Perth.  Expedia took the blame and even gave us a $200 credit for this flight debacle, but it didn’t help our situation as we had to stay an additional day in Perth and did not get to see the town of Alice Springs before heading on to visit Uluru.  Hope to see you again someday Alice Springs.

    So there you have it.  The winner of the Fab Fifties version of the Oscars for 2018.  But you do know, the real winner is me.  Me and my husband.  The luckiest people on the planet. Who needs a little gold statue when you have a Fab Fifties Life?

    What a fabulous life it is.

    Please comment and share.  We appreciate your love.

     

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.

    Pilgrimages come in many packages. Some planned. Some not. For Harold Fry his was unlikely and most unexpected. And most certainly a transformative life-changing event.

    Having been on my own life-changing pilgrimage these past few years, I really felt a kinship with Harold. Recently retired, looking for purpose, unable to make his wife happy, Harold’s life takes a major turn the day he receives a letter from a former colleague.

    And thus begins the unlikely adventure. Part Forest Gump, part Walter Mitty – Harold’s pilgrim path ebbs and flows and throughout he impacts people’s lives in a sincere and honest way during the more than six month journey- all while learning so much about himself.

    I really enjoyed this book and the story of an ordinary man with an extraordinary sense of commitment, humanity and perseverance. You will love Harold Fry and his unorthodox adventure too.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Five stars for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

    Read last week’s review of Becoming

    South America Travel

    Six Beautiful Beaches of Ilha Grande Brazil

    Beautiful Brazil

    Location: Ilha Grande Brazil

    Six Beautiful Beaches of Ilha Grande Brazil

    We have not met any other Americans here on Ilha Grande. It’s somewhat of a Brazilian secret. A weekend getaway or summer vacation for Brazilian families as well as the twenty-something backpacker set.

    A few foreigners know the secret. We hear some French being spoken. A bit of German. Perhaps some Swedish.  But mostly it’s Portuguese as we make our way with our limited language skills beyond English.

    Like us, everyone is here for the Ilha Grand beaches. Touted as Brazil’s most beautiful, the effort it takes to get to these glorious and remote beaches is worth it.

    Six most beautiful beaches of Ilha Grande

    The white sands of Lopes Mendes

    Six most beautiful beaches of Ilha Grande

    Starting the hike to Lopes Mendes

    Six most beautiful beaches of Ilha Grande

    My favorite Praia Palma

    After nine days on the island, we can report first hand our favorite Ilha Grand beaches as well as report there isn’t a lot else to do. The tiny town of Abraão has some restaurants and a hand full of shops but not even an ATM.  There are no cars here either. If you want to go you walk or take a boat. There is a bustling water taxi and boat shuttle business to remote beaches, other islands and the mainland. We walked and took the boat to discover our favorites.  Walking however involves climbing, on this hilly and often muddy tropical island.  Good footwear is a must. And for me, having my walking poles was a lifesaver.  I took one tumble, with no damage done.

    There are many more Ilha Grande beaches on the island we did not see, but here is our list of our favorite beaches of Ilha Grande;

    Praia Lopes Mendes – at 3K long, Lopes Mendes is the largest of any of the beaches we visited on the island.  Listed often as one of Brazil’s most beautiful beaches, the beach is a beautiful stretch of powdery white sand that squeaks when you walk in it.  Very limited services at this beach, just a few hardy entrepreneurs selling cold drinks out of coolers.  Getting to this beach is a challenge.  You either hike about three hours from the village of Abraao or you take a nearly hour-long boat ride through rough and choppy seas then walk another twenty minutes to reach the beach.

    Six most beautiful beaches of Ilha Grande

    Praia da Crena

    Six most beautiful beaches of Ilha Grande

    Praia Preta

    Praia do Abraazinho – walking from the village of Abraao north you can visit five different beaches through a series of trails and beach walks.  The fifth beach Abraazinho was my favorite.  We spent a wonderful morning here after a hot and sweaty hike and the warm blue waters were a perfect reward for our efforts.  This beach has a few restaurants offered and we enjoyed one of our best meals in all of Brazil here, a Fish and Banana stew that was huge, cheap and delicious.

    Six most beautiful beaches of Ilha Grande

    Abraazinho lunch

    Praia da Crena – after enjoying Abraazinho we walked back towards the village and stopped at the next beach of Praia de Crena.  Smaller than Abrazinho, Praia de Crena offered a shallow swimming area and seemed popular with families.  The water was ridiculously warm and calm.  There was some shaded areas for the late afternoon heat as well as a small restaurant and bar.

    Praia Palmas – a rigorous hike of nearly two hours on a very hot day brought us to the collection of beaches in Palmas.  This was in my opinion the most beautiful beach we saw on Ilha Grande.  A steep beach leads from the shady tree line down to the warm blue water, which on the day we were there had some good rolling surf.

    Praia de Dois Rios

    Praia de Dois Rios – What a workout getting to this beach.  Six mile hike each way from Abraão and straight up.  But the result was a spectacular beach nearly all to ourselves.  Lots of shade and really warm blue water. I loved it.  A couple of vendors selling cold drinks. There is a town here too – a former grand company town where a penitentiary was.  But now the once beautiful homes and buildings are mostly abandoned.  Just a few people left to cater to the beach visitors.

    Praia Preta

    Praia Preta – Close to town but prettier than the beach found right in town, Praia Preta has a little lagoon that is a favorite with families as well as shady area great for picnics.  This beach abuts the original settlement on the island.  Full of history, the site was originally a farmhouse, later a quarantine site for European travelers coming around the horn and suffering from cholera, and then a

    Aquaduct

    penitentiary for many years before being abandoned.  What remains of the buildings are large boulders and building blocks covered in jungle vegetation and moss. Additionally the remains of a historic aqueduct culminating here is also interesting.

    It’s easy to see why Brazilians love this place so much.  I had never even heard of it, so I am really glad Arne did his research and discovered it.  A hidden gem I highly recommend you consider when you come to beautiful Brazil.

    Fabulous!

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Becoming by Michelle Obama

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    Fascinating.  Forget the politics and just for a moment think about the journey.  This woman’s journey is fascinating.

    Raised in a tiny apartment in the Southside of Chicago. Despite their economic and racial status, Michelle Robinson Obama’s parents made sure she had lofty goals…and reached them.  Good enough.  With occasional doubts she constantly reminded herself that yes, she was good enough.

    Good enough to be accepted into one of Chicago’s best high schools.  Good enough to be accepted into Princeton.  Good enough to be accepted to Harvard Law.  And good enough to make a difference in the lives of many people, including her own family.

    Michelle Obama’s unlikely rise from a working class Chicago family to First Lady of the United States was more than good enough.  In her climb she remained graceful, focused, family centric and kind.  Never a politician, she focused on what she loved most of all – people.  Particularly children and military families.  Through her work she gave inspiration to women and girls, minorities and the poor throughout the USA and the world.  And in her book Becoming, she describes it all, in a matter-of-fact writing style punctuated with  honesty and tears, laughter and pain.

    Worth the read to see the inside working’s of the unofficial position of First Lady, the inside workings of a brilliant American woman and the inside working’s of approaching an exceptional life with an exceptional focus and positive attitude.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for Becoming.

    Read last week’s review of The Pillars of the Earth.

    Please share our blog 

    Adventure Travel  --  South America Travel

    Let’s Bungle in the Amazon Jungle

    A Brazilian Dream Come True

    Location: Amazon Jungle Brazil

    It’s  a gigantic place. Huge. Impossible to see it all. But the tiny piece of the Amazon Jungle we experienced was a privilege that will stay with us forever.

    Numbers

    First let’s talk numbers in the Amazon Jungle; 5.5 million square kilometers (2.1 million square miles); one fifth of the freshwater flowing into the Earth’s oceans comes from the Amazon River; there are more than 40,000 different kinds of trees and plants; 2.5 millions kinds of insects; 3000 freshwater fish; 427 mammals; 378 reptiles; 400 amphibians; and 1300 kinds of birds. It is the greatest biodiversity area on the earth.

    Multiple rivers feed the jungle emptying eventually into the giant Amazon, which can be as wide as 20 miles in some places. The Amazon is the greatest river of South America and the largest drainage system in the world in terms of the volume of its flow and the area of basin. The total length of the river from the headwaters in southern Peru, is at least 4,000 miles (6,400 km), which makes it slightly shorter than the Nile River but still the equivalent of the distance from New York City to Rome (source Britannica.com)

    Amazon Jungle

    So many birds

    The Amazon Jungle Basin can average rainfall of approximately 2300 mm (7.5 feet). In some areas of the northwest portion of the Amazon basin, yearly rainfall can exceed 6000 mm (almost 20′), often flooding the civilizations that make Amazonia their home. In 2012 the highest flood level ever recorded in Manaus reached 29.97 meters (93 feet).

    Mosquitos

    Amazon Jungle

    Golden Hawk

    A word about mosquitos.  We were prepared to take malaria meds the entire time we were in the Amazon Jungle.  We began our meds the day before arrival and immediately I suffered from stomach upset.  When we arrived at Manati Lodge we learned that this particular area of Amazonia on the Rio Negro is generally mosquito free.  Due to the decomposing material from flora (which also gives the river a coffee color thus the name) the Rio Negro is naturally acidic, with ph ranging 2.4 – 4.9,  thus preventing mosquito larvae from developing.  Although some people still may want to take the malaria meds, I chose to stop taking them as soon as I learned this information – and me and my tummy were both grateful.  Each person should make their own decision and consult with their doctor.  I did receive a handful of bug bites – unknown to me from what kind of bugs.  They have healed quickly.

    The People

    Amazon Jungle

    Colorful Chief

    Today at least 400 indigenous tribes live in the jungle, much as they have for millennia.  The Brazilian government works to protect the rights and traditions of these tribes, all while also trying to help them find diverse ways to earn and survive.  Additionally a handful of tribes still live untouched from any interference by the civilized world and they wish to remain so.

    Manati Lodge

    Amazon Jungle

    Manati Lodge

    For our visit to this fascinating place we chose to spend five days at the Manati Lodge, a simple but comfortable and very well run small lodge about two hours from the city of Manaus.

    Amazon Jungle

    Manati Lodge

    Manaus (population 1.8 million) is the major city of the state of Amazonas, and the jumping-off point for most visitors to the Amazon. From here you can begin your journey to multiple lodges and resorts inside the protected area. A variety of styles and price ranges are available for lodging. For us Manati was just what we needed. All inclusive (transport, comfortable room, all meals and all tours) for two people for five days cost $1100. We spent an additional $20 on alcohol (we did not drink very much by choice)  and $75 on gratuity. For what we got, an absolute bargain.

    Manati has 6 rooms that can sleep four each. During our five days, guests on two, three and five-day tours revolved  in and out.  We met a nice variety of world travelers from Brazil, Canada, England, Italy, France, Croatia and the USA.

    Our Guide

    Amazon Jungle

    Isaac, right, shows me how to weave

    Our guide Isaac was wonderfully full of enthusiasm, stories and wisdom about his native region. Some days we had Isaac all to ourselves and other days we shared him with other guests.

    Amazon Jungle

    New Years Eve

    Isaac made sure we saw and did so much. We began with a serene and beautiful tour by boat to enjoy the jungle from the water. There is green, and then there is Amazon jungle green – an indescribable range of hues I never knew existed on the planet. Throw in the remarkable rainbow and it was such a pleasant way to start our adventure.

    A special celebration on our first night for New Year’s Eve was totally unexpected and so wonderful. The staff decorated with palms and flowers we ate and toasted with sangria and champagne and even had midnight fireworks. Not at all what I expected in the middle of the jungle. It was wonderful.

    So much to see

    Amazon Jungle

    Piranha catch

    Over the next four days we had a huge variety of experiences, but also plenty of downtime to relax and read. I had neither WiFi or cell service over the five days which turned out to be a blessing – giving me a news and social media break I didn’t even realize I desperately needed.

    Surprise Encounters

    Amazon Jungle

    Sloth trying to hide

    A visit to a local village provided us our first spotting of a sloth in the wild – a lifelong dream for me.  Going piranha fishing had never been on my lifelong dream list but it turned out to be very entertaining and fun.

    Medicine

    Amazon Jungle

    Jungle hike

    I really enjoyed our three-hour jungle walk, where we were introduced to a fascinating variety of flora, including dozens of plants that are used in medicines we know and use regularly from Vick’s Vapor Rub to Milk of Magnesia. We saw wild acai, Brazil nuts, palms used for roofs, plants the indigenous people used for poison and hunting and other plants used for survival in the Amazon jungle.  And some in our group even ate butterfly larvae.  I declined the offer.

    Animals

    Later that same day, under thankfully sunny skies we swam with the famous Amazon pink dolphins.  The government allows the dolphins to be fed four days a week, this is how the tourists get to see them.  The rest of the time they are left alone so they do not grow overly dependent on humans.  They are not in a pen.  They swim freely and come to the platform when fish is available. They were large and incredibly strong, but also gentle.  They enjoy being petted.  And they smile.

    Amazon Jungle

    Pink dolphin

    I swam with dolphins once before, in Zanzibar.  But this was different.  In Zanzibar we did not touch them.  I enjoyed both experiences for different reasons. The dolphin skin is soft like a baby.  Their eyes are so tiny.  Also known as botos, they are born grey and become pinker with age. As they mature its skin becomes more translucent allowing the blood to show through. When excited, they will flush to a bright pink , like your face might when you get embarrassed or excited.

    After saying farewell to our new dolphin friends we took a beautiful boat ride to another part of the river.  We parked the boat on the river’s edge and watched as dozens of inquisitive little squirrel monkeys cautiously approached and then, when realizing we had bananas, jumped right on board.

    I’ve seen monkeys big and small all over the world, and generally am not a fan.  They can be mean and smelly.  But the Amazon Jungle squirrel monkey was by far the cutest and sweetest I have met.

    Amazon Jungle

    Squirrel mo key

    We ended this amazing day with a sunset swim in the warm Rio Negro before returning to Manati.

    The next morning we woke at 5am to clear skies so we groggily (before coffee!) headed out to watch the sunrise. It was beautiful and worth getting up for.

    Plants

    Amazon Jungle

    Water is life

    Amazon Jungle

    Sunset swim

    After breakfast we visited a local family home where we learned more about plants used for medicine in the jungle.  We also learned all about the staple native food of manioc, a tuber that is the source of tapioca as well as numerous other products.  Manioc is part of the daily diet not only of the indigenous people but nearly everyone in Brazil.

    Snake

    Amazon Jungle

    One big snake

    We ended this day with a visit to another local home.  Here an anaconda that was  accidentally caught in a fishing net is being nursed before being released back into the wild Amazon jungle.  Those who wanted to were allowed to hold the beast.  It was about eight feet long.  Damp.  And strong.  Another once in a lifetime experience.  I think once is enough.

    Indigenous Tribe

    Our final day dawned stormy so our hour-long boat ride to visit an indigenous village was down right painful as we crossed the giant Rio Negro in a healthy wind and serious chop.  But I’m glad we did.

    Amazon Jungle

    The tribe we visited

    The village of the Dessana people accepts visitors as a way to earn money and to share their culture.  Originally found in their ancestral home 600 miles (965km) away in the dense remote jungle of northwestern Brazil, they came to the Tupe region for a better life to fish and farm. Dessana began benefiting from tourist who were curious to see their ancient traditions (source theCultureTrip.com.)

    The Chief explained in detail (through an interpreter) many of their rituals about boys initiation to manhood, marriage, leadership, food, hunting and celebrations.

    Amazon Jungle

    Dancing with the Chief

    The Chief and about twenty-five people from the tribe including men, women and children then  performed for us several ritual dances and songs with handmade instruments.  We then were invited to dance with them.  The Chief took my hand and he was amazingly strong as he led (well, dragged) me alongside him as I tried to follow the intricate steps of the dance.  Arne was also dancing, although I was too busy to see him trying.  Luckily Isaac snapped a few photos.

    Amazon Jungle

    Arne dancing too

    Before leaving we purchased a few handmade items from the tribe and thanked them for sharing.  It was a great way to end our amazing Amazon visit.

    Farewell

    Amazon Jungle

    One of my fav photos

    After lunch we headed back to Manaus and civilization, forever changed by the experience.  Just one more remarkable memory and a spectacular way to begin 2019.

    Fabulous! 

     

    Adventure Travel  --  South America Travel

    Iguacu Falls- Brazil Side

    Worth the Effort to Get There

    Location: Icuacu Falls Brazil

    It was a two-hour flight from Rio.  An hour city bus ride packed in like sardines was followed by more than an hour in ticket lines and shuttle lines to actually reach the falls.

    I began to wonder if it could be worth all this?

    Yes. Yes it was. Totally worth the effort to get there. What adjectives to use? Stunning, awesome, powerful, beautiful. It was all that and more.

    In fact, once off the bus and on our own, the post-Christmas crowds didn’t seem a big issue, except on the one major platform that takes you out closest to the thundering falls.

    A stones throw across the raging river, it was easy to see the Argentinian side was just as crowded. Perhaps even more so. There are those who argue the view is better from Argentina. I can’t say. But the view from the Brazil side was incredible. And definitely worth the effort to get there.

    Ten dollar entrance to the National Park provides your park transport. Additional activities require additional fees including guided hikes, boat tours, kayaks and food.

    In hindsight the thing I would do differently (other than not come Christmas week) is stay in one of the hotels next to or inside the park. More expensive than our in-town Airbnb (which we really liked) but the convenience would be worth it. Especially since our time here was limited.

    A definite “I don’t have a bucketlist” bucket list item. Iguacu Falls Brazil Side. Entirely worth the effort to get there.

    Fabulous!

    Learn more at Iguacu National Park

     

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

    A Saga.  A Gripping historical novel from contemporary writer Ken Follett.  Published in 1989, how is it that I have waited so long to read this masterpiece?  I absolutely love The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

    As a full time traveler, I have been witness to some of the most remarkable cathedrals in the world.  And I have often felt flabbergasted at the thought of how these monstrous but beautiful buildings could possibly been constructed in an age with no machinery, electricity, power or technology.  These monuments to God are truly a wonder.

    Little did I know all this time that Ken Follett had in the 1970’s felt the same, and over a decade of time he wrote his brilliant masterpiece The Pillars of the Earth.  I am so glad I found this book.  My eyes have been opened and my appreciation will be far greater still, when next I stand in front of one of these masterpiece architectural wonders.

    The Pillars of the Earth is set in 12th century England, a time of anarchy and war, brutal famine and poverty, royal power and catholic corruption.  The story follows a memorable cast of characters who you grow to love as they struggle in their own existence, as well as a brutal cast of characters – power hungry and evil, who you despise.  Follett’s ability to bring together this believable group of people, set against real historical events and characters in a time of medieval anarchy is a masterful work of fiction.  The author builds the story alongside the building of the magnificent Kingsbrige Cathedral, despite fire and pillaging, death and destruction, backstabbing and power grabbing at every corner.

    The Pillars of the Earth is ambitious to say the least.  Masterful at its best.  And written with compassion for the everyday people of the time – just trying to survive in a world where any day could bring disaster.

    Spectacular classical reading at its best. 

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Five stars for The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

    Read what Wikipedia has to say about Pillars of the Earth here.

    Read last week’s review of The Keeper of Lost Things.

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